Citizen lawsuit aims to stop Maybell project | August 2, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 2, 2013

Citizen lawsuit aims to stop Maybell project

Coalition claims Palo Alto violated environmental laws in approving development

by Gennady Sheyner

A coalition of Palo Alto residents have filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking to overturn the City Council's approval in June of a new housing development on Maybell Avenue.

The group, called Coalition for Safe and Responsible Zoning, served the city with the court papers Wednesday afternoon, July 31, City Attorney Molly Stump told the Weekly. The council is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit Monday night.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the City Council's decision to rezone the site at 567 Maybell Ave. to "planned community," a designation that allows the developer to exceed density regulations. The change will allow the nonprofit developer Palo Alto Housing Corporation to build a 60-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes near the intersection of Maybell and Clemo avenues. The project is facing a massive pushback from the community, with residents having already completed two successful signature drives to bring the approval to a referendum.

The new lawsuit is the latest step in the concerted opposition, which was initially focused in the Barron Park, Green Acres and Green Acres II neighborhoods but which now includes land-use critics from other areas of Palo Alto. Joy Ogawa, who took part in a recent lawsuit challenging the proposed reduction of lanes on California Avenue, is representing the coalition in the new suit.

The lawsuit identifies the coalition as a limited liability company whose members are "residents and taxpayers in the City of Palo Alto."

"(The) coalition was formed, in part, for the purposes of protecting the environment and safety on Maybell Avenue and of preserving the character and integrity of the pastoral and residential nature of the Barron Park and Green Acres II neighborhoods and environs, which would be directly affected by the proposed project," the lawsuit states.

The suit focuses on the city's environmental-review process for the Maybell project and the council's decision to loan $5.8 million to the Housing Corporation well before the review kicked off. It also takes aim at the city's traffic analysis and argues that the council has "failed to adequately consider the significant impacts that the project would have on the neighborhood in terms of traffic and parking, safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, access of emergency vehicles, accelerated deterioration of Juana Briones Park (recreation), aesthetics, including obstruction of a public view of the foothills, air quality, greenhouse gases, and hazardous waste and hazardous materials."

Critics seek to reverse the approval and, at a minimum, require a fuller study considering all the aforementioned impacts and other reasonable alternatives for the site.

Most of the arguments in the lawsuit echo the criticism expressed by residents over a series of highly emotional meetings in May and June, prior to the City Council's approval of the project on June 18. Many critics complained about the city's process for approving the project, including its loan to the Housing Corporation in 2012. The suit alleges that the loan effectively predetermined the outcome. By approving the loan, the suit states, the council "committed itself to approval of the project without any CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review and effectively foreclosed the possibility of a 'no project' alternative, and abused its discretion, exceeded its jurisdiction and proceeded in a manner contrary to law and without the support of substantial evidence in the record."

Traffic, a subject of grave concerns during the Maybell debate, also looms front and center in the suit. During the public hearings, residents presented videos of traffic conditions on Maybell, which included footage of students on bikes sharing driving lanes with long streams of slowly moving cars.

The plaintiffs point to analyses from traffic experts that dispute the city's finding that the development wouldn't cause significant traffic problems. The reviews found that the city's consultant used outdated traffic data and failed to count bicycle and pedestrian data in the busy school corridor. The city has maintained that there would be very few traffic problems because most seniors in the new development would not be driving during the peak hours.

The suit also claims the city did not adequately consider other proposed developments in the area in determining that there would be no major changes to traffic volume or patterns. It argues that the city should have completed a full Environmental Impact Report for Maybell rather than proceeding with a less-detailed review known as a "mitigated negative declaration."

For many opponents of the Maybell project, the council's approval is part of a growing trend in developers requesting and receiving zoning exemptions. Michael Lowy, a member of the Coalition for Safe and Sensible Zoning who signed the verification for the lawsuit, urged the council not to send the developers a message that they should expect the city to change its zoning code upon request.

"The idea that zoning can be changed in every instance is something that we have to guard against," Lowy told the council on June 17. "If we allow this project to go forward the way it's constituted, we're going to encourage other developers to keep asking for changes in zoning and expect it."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Ellie, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 12:32 am

This is such a shame. A huge waste of time and resources to what - oh, stop affordable senior housing from being built. No no - not the list of justifications again, please. What most matters and what foes of this housing try to avoid talking about is the impact of their misplaced ire - a lot of elderly folks in palo alto may lose the rare chance to stay living in town thanks to you all. Again - for shame.

Posted by Mother, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:52 am

The city and PAHC brought this much deserved outcome upon themselves with their arrogance and backroom politics. How can you do a traffic study about upzoning on a busy school corridor and ignore kids and bikes? Why let some inconvenient facts (Maybell is heavily impacted, and serves over 3000 students) get in the way of a good developer giveaway? Why listen to neighbors' concerns when its easier to scream "NIMBY" at them.

Thank you Coalition for taking a stand!

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 2, 2013 at 7:48 am

Since the Residents of Palo Alto are faced with so much disruption, and possibly even destruction, of our town by "change"--in large part facilitated by our elected "leaders"--shouldn't we be getting a petition circulated to end "PC" zoning?

Does anyone know how "PC" zoning came to be, here in Palo Alto? I suspect that it was via a Council vote, either as a line item on a Council agenda, or buried in a package of zoning changes. Either way--it probably was a Council vote that create "PC"--so there is no reason the Council could not end it with another vote. If they won't, then the residents should be given a chance to speak on the issue--at the ballot box.

Posted by waste of money, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 8:13 am

I was on the fence but this tipped my to voting for the development. You need residents outside your neighborhood to vote for your petition. If you insist on wasting the city's money with spurious suits, you're going to lose any goodwill you might have had.

Posted by pa resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 8:13 am

Maybe the city could move the mobile home park to the Maybell site. This sounds like win-win for everyone.

Posted by good move, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

What we have seen in the last few years is the only way to deal with
this out of control and arrogant City government is through lawsuits
and referendum. That is all they respond to. Good move.

Posted by Voter, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 2, 2013 at 8:49 am

@ waste of money

The city wasted yours and my tax money when it backed this project with 6 million tax dollars even before doing any vetting or hearing any feedback. It might have slipped under the radar if they weren't adding dangerout, out-of-character hi-density to a clogged school transit corridor. Whoops. Rigging an outcome will always force the party that it is rigged against to seek neutral venues. In this case, residents have the courts and the ballot box.

If the city chooses to waste more of our tax dollars defending the lawsuit, they are double downing on their own wasteful arrogance. I hope this lawsuit forces the issues raised to be addresses instead of shouted down, as they were during the rigged "debate" that the city presided over.

I also hope they don't try to dodge accountability by holding an expensive special election (another favor to the developer, who wants to steamroll opposition quickly). They should put it on the 2014 ballot, which will be cheapest by far, and let the council members who voted for this debacle defend their vote while they defend their jobs.

I also don't like the idea of the city-funded PAHC using our dollars to campaign against a referendum that they themselves triggered.

This project needs to be abandoned immediately. The city should stop pouring time and money into a poorly conceived project that has been soundly rejected by the public.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2013 at 9:09 am

I don't generally approve of lawsuits, but this may be the exception to that.

I don't approve of what the Council is doing to our City. I don't approve of all the projects that are ruining the quality of life in town. I don't like the way residents' wishes in any neighborhood are ignored. I would like to get some sanity back in town.

Saying that, we would have a large supermarket in Alma Plaza (that place is not a village - a village is a remote place with lots of greenery where you need a car to get anywhere) if it wasn't for the neighbors, but I think we have learnt better from that.

Posted by Bob Moss, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

Here are a few inconvenient facts for those supporting PAHC and the continued overdevelopment of Palo Alto and the onging approval of projects that violate key policies of the Comprehensive Plan. Those who oppose the awful project at Maybell and Clemo have repeatedly told PAHC and the city that if they want to build low income senior housing on the site and COMPLY WITHTHE EXISTING LOW DENSITY ZONING we fully support them. In fact there has never been neighborhood oppositin to the many senior and affordable local developments such as El Cmino Way, Charleston, and Los Robles.The PAHC project violates basic zoning principals of blending R-1 and higher density uses, viloates Policies L3, L4 and L5 of the Comprehensive Plan that say development by single family zones should be low scale and compatable. A project with 55 units/acre 50 feet high next to R-1 with 8 units/ acre 30 feet high isn't compatible or reasonable. It isn't just people in Barron Park and Greenacres that opposed this project. We got overwhelming support from people all over Palo Alto.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2013 at 9:48 am

"Does anyone know how "PC" zoning came to be, here in Palo Alto?"

I've been told it's state law. However, state law does not require it to be abused. That's optional.

Posted by waste of money, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 9:48 am

@Voter, and you have your petition and can vote. Why waste the city's money with this suit?

Posted by Voter, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

@ Waste of Money

You are correct I can vote, but what I can't do is force the city to take its vetting responsibility seriously, for this or all projects. They did after all financially commit to the project before doing any vetting at all, and proceeded to ignore any objections from the parent and neighbors.

Whether the referendum succeeds or not, the children who commute to school on Maybell (and their parents) deserve better than a traffic study that pretends they do not exist. Letting the city get away with rubber stamping a developer commissioned study that does just that sets a terrible, dangerous precedent.

The message needs to be sent to all developers that if you want to do a project in Palo Alto, manipulating and ignoring impacts will not be tolerated. In most cities, the city council and planning commission enforce this on the people's behalf. Unfortunately, in Palo Alto, the government rolls over for well connected developers at every opportunity, and enforcement is left to the people.

The city has full control of how much money it wastes defending their sloppy work and poor decision making. A referendum gives them voter input and the option to reverse their vote. If they choose to spend more city resources doubling down on their earlier tone-deaf decision, that is just more bad governance.

The role of CEQA here is that of an adult in the room that polices the children run amok that is our city council. When safety and other live-ability/impact issues came up with Maybell, the council essentially covered its ears and screamed like a petulant child pretending the issues didn't exist. Acknowledging them would be admitting they were reckless with tax dollars in pre-funding the project. CEQA is simply the adult the council has shown itself incapable of being.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

> I've been told it's state law.

Thanks for commenting. I've googled on "PC zoning" from time-to-time, and it only pops up here in Palo Alto. Most zoning is local, so I would be surprised if there were any State requirements on this particular matter.

Given how controversial PC zoning has become--we (the residents) really ought to know where it came from.

Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:21 am

We in Barron Park welcome the low income senior housing if it is built within the current zoning. That will give them over 40 senior units.
I object to the PC rezoning that enables the developer to build jam packed chimney like market rate houses in order to make tons of money.
Why can't the developer find a way to compromise and build this project without the rezoning?

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

PC zoning provided some flexibility in the Comprehensive plan zoning to offer some flexibility to zoning rules so that adjustments could made for the greater community good.

Examples include giving a little more height to avoid having to remove a heritage Oak, or adjusting the height on one side of the project to accommodate lower heights for transition into a residential neighborhood.

It was offered to keep things from being locked in stone, when the changes were clearly for the greater good and benefited everyone.

We now have observed the use of this reasonable flexibility provision as a loophole to gift density to developers at a great cost to the neighborhoods and quality of life.

The Council has simply abused the rule. The flexibility is good -- how it has been abused has strayed from the legislative intent and is wrong.

Tim Gray

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:41 am

I live outside of this neighborhood (as far away from Gunn as you can and still go there) and I supported this petition. My children and all of my neighbor's children use this as a way to get to school and back. Have you been in this area during a school day? It is full of students walking, biking, and driving to/from school. The density of this project would overwhelm an already busy area.

Posted by reader, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:48 am

Why don't they put the senior housing at the trailer park?

Posted by AR , a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

@Tim Gray: thanks; you really should be on City Council.

@Wayne: I support your idea to start a petition to end PC zoning. Since it is clear the Council essentially ignores the Comp Plan eliminating the PC option may be the only way to bring development back to reasonable.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

SteveU is a registered user.

It is NOT against Senior Housing on that site.

It is against overbuilding for that location (or possibly any other location within PA that significantly CHANGES the impact to the nearby residents).
There are 3 Schools that use that corridor for access.
In the last 20 years We have reduced Lanes. We have built more dense housing (Hyatt Rickeys, Recordings for the blind,Palo Alto Bowl,West Bayshore at Meadow). All these feed lots of additional (over that prior to the housing construction) traffic to those (and other) schools in the area.
This is about allowing overbuilding under the guise of 'Low cost Senior Housing'

Posted by college terrace resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:55 am

Barron park folks are fighting a good if misguided fight. They appear to be silly fighting over
senior housing that exceeds what developer was planned just by 12 units.
Look at the College Terrace where we are facing 182 units that city gifted to Stanford in exchange for the soccer fields. Did we petition or filed a lawsuit? No, CTRA likes to play nice
with the City and the residents have to live with the consequences.
By the way, City and Stanford also used outdated and and erroneous traffic study.

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:04 am

The "Lawsuit" is simply a "Writ of Mandamus" which asks a judge to order elected officials to follow the law and perform their duties in a legal manner.

This is a very reasonable action that citizens can take to assure that civic officials do their job as required by the laws of the land.

A judge will put the facts on the scale of justice and a decision will be made.

Let's let due process take its course, and after a decision has been made, make an assessment with 20 20 hindsight.

My observation is that the law has not been followed and a corrective action will be required, however, under our system, this assessment is reserved for a judge.

We are observing citizen participation in a democracy, and that is one of the stated goals of the Palo Alto City Council.


Tim Gray

Posted by A resident mediator, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

Why a lawsuit? Let's use non-adversarial ways of resolving differences. Palo Alto sponsors a city-wide mediation program, so why not try mediation to resolve this issue? Perhaps the Palo Alto-run program isn't the best venue for resolving an situation like this, but several recognized professional mediators live in this City. They can help the parties discuss the issues and come to mutually acceptable resolution without animosity or spending the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to mount a lawsuit.

Posted by Judith , a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:32 am

PC zoning exists because Palo Alto was pretty much built out when we started having extensive zoning rules. That made it hard to actually fulfill the zoning requirements, so a little (!) flexibility looked like a good idea.

The problems are: The ordinance is poorly written, the benefits undefined, no clarity as to whether the benefits should be inherent in the project or added on (or both), AND the process has been badly abused by developers.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:49 am

"I've googled on "PC zoning" from time-to-time, and it only pops up here in Palo Alto."

Other towns might use different terminology. Supposedly all of them must have a zoning breakout mechanism for projects that benefit the city.

Posted by pavoter, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm

@ A resident mediator: Would the mediator be objective? My concern about using a facilitator is that often the facilitator has an agenda. The facilitator will acknowledge various concerns as legitimate but then debunk them enough to push for the desired goal. Minor concessions would be made, and developers know this, so the developer asks for more density while expecting a lower number, but still much higher than it should be.

Posted by Member, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Developers primary motive for the project it profit - not helping seniors, so we cannot take their opinion as unbiased.
Claiming that there is no traffic impact by seniors ignores the facts that seniors have visitors, outing, medical visits and care-givers that drive.
We see increased traffic jams wasting people time and burning fuel unnecessarily.
High density housing will get matters worst.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

PC Zoning(Planned Community) is intended to allow exceptional (in both senses) projects to be built -- to enable good projects that the zoning for that particular parcel hadn't anticipated. The justification talks of "public benefit".

However, in Palo Alto, "public benefit" is an Orwellian term for "profits for developers". When a developer bought Alma Plaza for $6M, he almost immediately "flipped" 80% of the site to a housing developer for over $20 on the _anticipation_ that he had the political juice to get a PC zoning.

When you look at all the employees in the University Avenue area clogging the surrounding residential neighborhoods with their parked cars and cars circling blocks looking for parking places, recognize that each 4-5 of those parking places constituted a $1M gift by the City Council to the political connected developers.

The City has a pipeline stuffed with new commercial projects, virtually all of them PCs, or more accurately, applications for gifts from the taxpayers.

PCs should be regarded as a way that the City Council imposes massive hidden taxes on the residents and then gifts that money to the developers (who in turn make small gifts to the "hobbies" and causes supported by various Council members).

Posted by Mondragon, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:40 pm

If a child is hit by a car trying to get to school after this project is built, it will be on the heads of the Council, ARB, and Planning Commission.

last September, when this plan was first put to the its Council, the council members were almost unanimously against it because of traffic concerns. What happened between then and now that the developer was given a green light? It is suspicious. As if a lot of bribes were involved!

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm

"PCs should be regarded as a way that the City Council imposes massive hidden taxes on the residents..."

...including real estate inflation. The routine approval of PC zoning encourages developers to buy property at excessive prices, knowing that City Hall will obligingly make them whole in the end.

Posted by pa parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I can't quite understand why the Barron Park residents are so up-in-arms over the possibility of 12 townhouses. Do they really think the residents of these townhouses will make a huge difference in the traffic on Maybell? As far as I can judge, the senior housing is OK with the neighborhood residents. Would someone in BP please explain what's the big deal.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm

The first commenter, Ellie, said it best: "shame."

I'm rooting for the seniors.

Posted by Tina Peak, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I'm proud of the residents in the Maybell area. It is time for all neighborhoods to take up petitions and law suits and stop the city council and developers from ruining any more of the city. No more PC buildings where developers bribe the city council with "benefits". No more massively over-sized buildings. No more cramming in more people than we have schools, parks, roads, water and clean air to support. It is time to practice sustainability. Time to say no to more businesses and more houses. Build urban in areas that support urban - San Francisco and San Jose. It is also time to find city council candidates who will support residents and our quality of life and not pander to developers.

Posted by college terrace resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm

have you heard of the mandate for all bay are cities to build more housing? Maybe your anger is misplaced and should go to elsewhere.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "... townhouses will make a huge difference in the traffic on Maybell? ... Would someone in BP please explain what's the big deal."

You are thinking of traffic as having a proportional effect, when this particular situation is where it is expected to have exponential effect. As an analogy, think about the metering lights on the local highways -- by slightly decreasing the number of vehicles on the highway itself at any one time, it greatly increases the throughput of the highway. It is very counter-intuitive, but being forced to wait on the on-ramp can actually reduce the time it takes to get to your destination.

A similar disproportionate effect is seen in the fatality rate when pedestrians are hit by vehicles. A pedestrian hit at 35mph is very likely to die -- many times more likely than at 20mph.

Maybell has long been a street with serious traffic safety problems. The Arastradero Restriping seems to have pushed more cut-through traffic onto it (the data is disputed). And the ongoing expansion in the upper Research Park is likely to make that situation worse.

The concern about the for-sale houses is that they are expected to put their traffic onto the street at the worse possible moment -- during the morning school commute, when the street is already clogged with students -- elementary, middle and high school; walking and biking -- and when there are already a disturbing number of accidents and near-accidents.

Disclosure: I am _not_ part of the Maybell/Clemo campaign, but I have worked on traffic issues in Barron Park since the mid-1990s.

Posted by Maybell Bicyclist, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I don't believe this is the right PC project to attack. Yes. There have been some egregious uses of PC zoning, but this project is not a good example of that.

City Council made very significant changes to the project in response to neighborhood comments. I think this project (now)is pretty good. I am really concerned that if the referendum is successful, we won't get the affordable senior housing we need and some for-profit developer will pack in 36 single family homes--because they CAN with the existing zoning.

Posted by pa parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Thanks for your explanation, Douglas. Do you think the BP residents would be happier if the market-rate housing was designated for seniors, who would be less likely to drive during peak times? Obviously townhouses would be inappropriate for seniors, so another design would be needed.

Posted by resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 1:18 am

@Maybell Bicyclist,
Larry Klein, no friend of the neighborhood, even said he had never seen such "stonewalling" from an applicant (PAHC) before. Does that sound like "compromise"? They reduced the number of market homes from 15 to 12, they didn't change the overall scheme which was to build a dense development of 72 units where there currently are 4 ranch homes and an orchard, along two heavily traveled school commute corridors which the City did not give the heightened scrutiny their own policy calls for.

The existing zoning limits the height to 30 feet - the 60-unit apartment complex is 4-stories and 50 feet. Neighbors have been asking for existing height limits to be honored. How much did PAHC compromise on the height? Let's see... Oh, right. Not at all. Nada, Zip.

Neighbors noted that this scheme, where the City helps PAHC buy up a large property, peel off part of it to build row houses that couldn't be build under existing zoning and upzone for the benefit of a market developer who gets higher prices because of the surrounding neighborhood, using the profits to build a dense development in a residential area - neighbors noted this scheme essentially places the burdens of paying for the project on a single neighborhood, when the benefits are to the City and not the neighborhood. Neighbors asked the City to pay the actual costs rather than foisting them on the neighborhood. After all, the City paid around four times per unit for the new affordable housing complex on Alma, instead of peeling off a part of it and letting some company build a giant high rise in order to pay less for the affordable housing as here. How much did the City offer to chip in to lessen the burden to the neighborhood? Again, Nada and Zip. No compromise.

Neighbors have been demanding better study of the traffic, including the impact on the bicyclists, the heightened scrutiny of school commute routes promised in City policy. The City wouldn't even allow discussion of it on the table during their supposed "summit" with neighbors. They wouldn't even discuss it. Instead of good data, they continue to harp on discredited talking points. Again, that's not compromise.

The City and PAHC keep steamrolling, not compromising.

Posted by resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 1:34 am

Oh, I almost forgot. The proposed development has 47 parking spots for the residents of 60 units, visitors, and employees. Neighbors asked for parking to be increased, or for guarantees that the traffic would not spill onto the neighborhood, where it would certainly affect the park and school. Neighbors explained that the adjacent PAHC property has produced much of the parked car traffic around the neighborhood, and that this alone has caused discord. Complaints have never resulted in the problem being addressed.

Neighbors were told there could be no underground parking at the complex. The number of parking spots was increased by... Zero spots. The design was changed... Not at all. The complaints about other PAHC parking problems? Not addressed.

No compromise by PAHC on most of the issues of import to the neighborhood.

Posted by resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 2:14 am

June 17, 2013 Councilmember Greg Schmid statement to the Council

But there are two fundamental issues I think raised by the neighbors. One is the compatibility of the transition from the larger structures out to the community and what it means. I guess I've had two experiences recently with housing, low income housing zoning in Palo Alto.

The first was on lytton gateway okay about, what, 8 months ago. and they were going to put some housing on the top floor of that, 14 units. Big debate about it. Finally they said, oh god, this place is so expensive, we shouldn't be spending it on low income housing.

Rather we could pay in lieu fees, and you could build more housing in a place the city where it isn't so expensive.

So here we are on Maybell and we're getting 60 senior low income units, partially paid by in lieu fees, leveraged in lieu fees. So a deal was made, but part of the deal, when we shifted those funds in where those houses were to be built, was not to harm a neighborhood, it was to build senior housing. So I think this transition between the senior housing and the neighborhood is extremely important. And the bargain we made, when we said, oh, you don't have to build them in downtown, downtown across the street from the train station, where all the buses go, where the stores are, where the people are, where Avenidas senior center is. And the deal you made was it would not destroy or hurt a neighborhood.

So, you know, a base question is, why isn't that in lieu fee enough to pay to protect the neighborhood from the impact.? Why do they have both take the 60 senior units AND build denser market-rate housing? So that's a good, a fundamental question that we ought to grapple with, and maybe could ask the planning director to come back and tell us, are the in lieu fees enough to do what we're using them for? Should they be higher in the downtown area, if they are not building any of these senior houses down there, in these very appropriate places? Shouldn't they be higher so that when they go to the neighborhood, we can protect, we can build that buffer?"

Indeed. If the in lieu fees had been higher, PAHC wouldn't have had to run this scheme, and could have (as neighbors have been asking) put JUST the affordable housing in, within the existing zoning, and not put in these market-rate homes upzoned for the benefit of the market-rate developer at all. Then there wouldn't have been any rancor -- unless they still refused to the a legitimate traffic safety study involving school children.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2013 at 3:44 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "pa parent" > "Do you think the BP residents would be happier..."

I don't know. My role in this has been consciously limited to providing some help in awareness and understanding of the issues, avoiding the priorities/tradeoffs. I live on the opposite side of Barron Park (next to the Research Park) and thought it best to let the nearby residents take the lead.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2013 at 10:45 am

Marie is a registered user.

Another reason we are seeing more and more issues with parking are that we have city staff and planning commission members who see San Francisco, with its horrendous parking problems, as the model for the future of Palo Alto. They also seem to believe that the only way to get people to use more mass transit is to make parking expensive and difficult. I disagree with both these notions.

To quote a Alcheck, (a planning commission member), and Aaron Aknin, (sadly the acting head of the planning department) from another thread (Traffic, parking top residents' concerns with Jay Paul project published Aug. 2):

Alcheck suggested that traffic solutions should act like taxes: discourage certain behaviors with higher taxes. In other words, decrease available parking and force businesses and employees to seek alternatives. Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin suggested a similar solution, which Chair Eduardo Martinez called the San Francisco plan of "you can build it, but they can't come."

Alcheck offered some untapped resources to counter traffic mayhem, like business-run traffic solutions (think Google buses) and residential parking permit programs.

"I want to highlight something that we all already know, which is that parking issues are not unique to this neighborhood," Alcheck said. "The reluctance to implement a residential parking permit program -- or more aptly, the speed -- is devastating. I wish I could be prouder. We're pitting residents against residents. We're pitting home owners against business owners."

Alcheck added that the notion that the permit program is complex is "insulting," given the working model in San Francisco, where many neighborhoods have such programs in place."

What Palo Alto really needs to do is eplace any planning commission member or staff who think that making parking more difficult is the way to increase use of mass transit. Paid short term parking in downtown Palo Alto would devastate the downtown shopping district that has to compete with Stanford shopping center, which has free parking.

Palo Alto does not need residential parking permits to cope with inadequate parking. It needs adequate parking. Tech industry pays far too well for its employees to double and triple commute time with mass transit.

If Palo Alto required a reasonable amount of parking (instead of restricting the amount of parking a company can put in place with a new building - (yes they refused to allow VMWare for example, to add as much parking as they wanted to add), and if Palo Alto insists new development include adequate parking as opposed to low in-lieu fees, Palo Alto would no longer have a problem.

Palo Alto no mandate to add very dense office space with inadequate parking, which then requires us via ABAG to add lots more housing such as the BP project, with inadequate parking - see theories on how to get people to use mass transit above . Palo Alto has adopted reasonable zoning that should be maintained and enforced. PC zoning should be used only for true community benefits, not as a gift to developers. Otherwise, we should come up with an initiative to eliminate or if that is impossible, severely restrict the use of PC zoning.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

Why Planned Community zoning makes so much trouble
Web Link

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm

The repeated effort to intensify development in residential neighborhoods is connected to developers' demands for intensified office development.

It is the permanent residents who are also the voters who can stop overdevelopment in Palo Alto, but if the quality of life of their residential neighborhoods is destroyed, then those residents who are the only effective opposition to overdevelopment will be motivated to leave Palo Alto while the developers will then have no opposition.

I believe San Francisco was able to double its office space after BART was built, and that constructing BART to enable an intensification of office use in San Francisco was a key reason for building BART.

The key lesson to take from that history is that developers and their cronies on the City Council and among the City staff who want to intensify office development without providing parking are going to have to wait until there is reliable, efficient, and frequent transit that brings employees to and from Palo Alto to their places of employment.

For example, High Speed Rail from a station in Fresno to a station in Palo Alto that City Council Members say they don't want in Palo Alto despite the fact that they approved the project at 355 Alma Street that is a model for that type of employment destination, and despite the fact that they are salivating over the Arrillaga project that meets the California High Speed Rail Authority's definition for a midpenisula train station that those same Council Members now claim they don't want in Palo Alto.

The residential neighborhoods lack sufficient parking space to accommodate the insatiable demands of the developers, even if every available street parking space is used by employees of office buildings.

The developers' strategy seems to be to destroy neighborhoods one by one to motivate their opponents to move out of Palo Alto, while the permanent residents' best hope is to recognize that an attack against one is an attack against all.

Posted by John, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Excellent observation.

The situation in Palo Alto as it is in Mountain View is that the city bureaus and councils are structured to accommodate developers of high density housing and office buildings with or without the transportation infrastructure.
Going down to city hall during working hours to oppose full time employees of developer companies is time consuming for someone who has a job and is a taxpayer.

We applaud your efforts to stem the crazy over the top development going on in our cities--we found paradise and its now a parking lot.

Another commentator mentioned Atherton-- I believe their bureaus are geared to the residents--they seem to be able to ignore the so-called ABAG fiats.

Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Don't be fooled by the Not-for-profit label, it simply means not-for-small-salaries-and-no-benefits/perks.

Posted by pa_resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I am really disappointed with the BP residents for bringing this lawsuit against CPA. The Maybell project seems like a reasonable use of the space, the traffic concerns greatly exaggerated, and the likely outcome an unnecessary depletion of city resources. I doubt that many folks who live in other PA neighborhoods will vote for the BP residents' self-serving referendum.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm

@ College Terrace resident,
It's not silly to demand the development stay within existing zonng. There would be only a difference of 15 or so senior unts, so to those who want senior housing, it would be almost as good - in fact, because of this debate, the city may even get those 20 out of 24 senior BMR units at Moldaw finally filled after going unfilled for three years, which would more than balance the loss - but height, setback, daylight plane, parking, and density rules would need to be respected under existing zoning. The impact on the nighborhood would be far less. Instead of a 4-story, 50-foot building, the height limit is 30 feet, for example.

More importantly, to get those 45 senior units, it would mean the property would no longer host the market rate tall skinny row housing with lots that are approximately half the size in the neighborhood in square footage - lots less than 3500 square foot. The market homes account for a lot of school and peak traffic, and would have impacts not even discussed in the debate. Not doing the market homes also lessens the impact on the neighborhood but requires the City to man up and pay the real cost rather than essentially foistng it on one neighborhood.

And, if a new plan were developed, it would be a chance to get the traffic analysis the neighbors have been asking for and are due. It would mean more time to get things right, as the frenetic timetable PAHC set forth for the city to bow to was unreasonable. They were to break ground in October, for example, placing the burden of the worst construction traffic during the worst school traffic. The impacts of even the construction traffic for such a major development on such a seriously overburdened corridor should have been included. Safety was supposed to come first and it went out the window.

It may be that adding any density in that location because of the practical logistics of the infrastructure would be dangerous, so you have keyed into another good point that maybe reducing to 45 units from 60 in the main development isn't enough.

In this case, the contract actually allows the City to take over the property if they wish. So this isn't like another case where the property is entirely in private hands. The alternative of making a community orchard could be a completely neutral alternative per traffic. There are, after all, about 100 mature trees there now that PAHC and their market debeloper would tear out, including two giant native oaks that are conveniently the best ones for them to tear out at just this time and can't be saved. (Maybe so, but objectivity hasn't characterzed their efforts, and I'd want a second opinion.) It's very likely they didn't do the comprehenive traffic analyss because they didn't want to be faced with having to do their duty to the safety of the school kids first, so inconvenient to their rolling over for developers.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm

You think the traffic concerns are greatly exaggerated? Seriously? Even Marc Berman, who couldn't have contorted himself harder to justify the rezone, he said the situation was not safe as it is. What he didn't say is that Maybell just underwent a six-figure safety review and "improvement" - meaning, the safety has already been optimzed, and it's still not safe. One of the biggest neighborhood opponents of the rezone had a huge hand in pushing the recent safety upgrade of Maybell farther than originally planned, because that person knows just how futile doing it all again will be. We've hit the limits of the infrastructure there, and neighbors know it all too well. Traffic signs on the street right in front of the school are reguarly hit and knocked to the ground so they have to be replaced, an average of once a month during school.

The traffic here is horrendous. Berman came to witness at a time when the traffic was frankly considerably better than usual at the end of the school year. You think iconcerns are exaggerated?! Next time it rains, and school is in session, I invite you to come spend a little time here when kids are trying to get to and from school. Or, actually, I invite people who are genuinely concerned about kids' safety. PAHC and their cronies have showed nothing but disinterest and disdain for the safety of our kds, and spun the concerns into some kind of warped pretext for NIMBYism, which is laughable in this neighborhood that already hosts so much more affordable housing than most residential parts of Palo Alto (except downtown where density is more appropriate).

If the safety concerns were "exaggerated", why did those who wanted to steamroll this rezone work so hard to avoid doing the comrehensive traffc study? Why the fear of good quality and current data? The City's own policy is of heightened scrutiny for development on school commute corridors, which it avoided doing. I happen to know neighbors are unselfshly sacrificing in order to force the City to do its duty for the kids.

Posted by Kathleen, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm

We need to oust the current city council. We need a referendum against them. They are allowing our town to be ruined.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2013 at 9:49 pm

There is a formal way to recall coincilmembers. Neighbors in Greenacres and BP wouldn't be able to lead right now, but most of us would sign. I'd be happy if all were recalled, except for Greg Schmid, who has been a more measured voice.

Posted by doubled down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm

There is simply no transportation infrastructure to support the
development which the Council promotes in Palo Alto. In response
to the growing circulation as well as parking problems evident years ago, a moratorium on development Downtown should have been put in place followed by a down-zoning to prevent further gridlock and destruction of our surrounding neighborhoods. Instead the City Council did the opposite and doubled down with continued upzoning through the PC loophole and parking exemptions.So we got not only gridlock and destruction of the neighborhoods but overdevelopment completely out of scale which changed the character of the City. The City Council and staff substituted a completely different vision for the future of Palo Alto with its own set of winners and losers. And is so doing they are flying blind into an abyss. The Maybell referendum is a very positive step in response to the oversized and poorly designed projects all over the City in general and specifically Maybell with its own issues, and symbolically this
vote will be seen as a signal of a new direction for the City.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

@doubled down,
Very astute comment. Please send to City Council. Not that they will listen, but at least it will be on record.

Posted by doubled down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

@Resident Green Acres
The Council was so used to winning, they doubled down on a 16
against the dealer's 10 and busted on Maybell. Let's make sure the Council doesn't get any more credit at the cashier's window or any more comps.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

When I first read about the sale, the planned project that PAHC on Clemo and Maybell, I would bet my fortune that this would go down.

Most everything built in California has had lawsuits, delays and more lawsuits. Planned traffic and transportation projects get delayed by years. Jobs are created but yet whole companies move out of state and not for taxes. Fullback of space and cost to expand.

California loses 30,000 acres of farmland each year.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm

The neighbors are pursuing the least disruptive opposition first, but they have more recourse than the usual. We shall see.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Has anyone else noticed that the illustration of the Maybell project on the city website is out of scale?
Web Link

If the existing 2-story (?) homes in the upper left corner and foreground are accurately drawn, then the 4-story senior housing is not nearly tall enough. Look how tiny the single family homes are in the new development compared to existing homes.

It is totally misleading as to the mass of the proposed project.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm

They are drawn just right. Everything in the sketch (incl. the proposed buildings) is at an angle to account for perspective --- it's in the drawing, but maybe lacking a bit among the neighbors.

Posted by Voter, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

This board decision raises larger questions about how we conduct our politics here.

In Palo Alto we routinely reelect political lifers who become dependent on union and developer support for the move to higher office, or their shuttle between local offices.

Worse, most of these folks rely on city or school board staff reports, actions and recommendations, and don't properly challenge their assumptions, assertions and conclusions. That's how we get council loan commitment before they even get to project approval, and Superintendent settlements with the Department of Justice without approval from the Board of Education.

I am also personally troubled by the fact that most of the big housing developments in recent years are in South Palo Alto, but most of the Council members live Downtown or in Midtown.

Finally, why do we keep adding housing when this town needs a broader tax base that provides both property taxes and sales tax or hotel tax? Mountain View is cleaning our clock on such projects, which provide strong funding for city infrastructure, culture and other benefits. Moreover, with a broader tax base, rates can be reduced.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

"It is totally misleading as to the mass of the proposed project."

"They are drawn just right. Everything in the sketch (incl. the proposed buildings) is at an angle to account for perspective..."

Technically true. (Web Link) But, curiously, the perspective has been chosen in order to greatly exaggerate the size of the existing single-family homes and diminish the apparent mass of the proposed new construction. "pat" has it right: it is totally misleading.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 5, 2013 at 8:50 pm

The height limit on existing zoning is 30 feet. The height on the proposed development is nearly 50 feet. It's too much.

Respect the zoning. It's possible to put in nearly as many senior units. The neighborhood should not be asked to shoulder the burden of the cost through this scheme.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm

"I am also personally troubled by the fact that most of the big housing developments in recent years are in South Palo Alto, but most of the Council members live Downtown or in Midtown."

Actually, I think all but two of the Councilmembers live north of Oregon expwy, even though half of Palo Altans live south of Oregon.

Look at the new Comprehensive Plan. it actually has a goal of densifying South Palo Alto, especially along the El Camino corridor. Think of all the changes we've gotten so far: in Mtn Vw at San Antonio center, Arbor Real, Alma Plaza, and all the new developments in the pipeline on El Camino. They have put in a goal of making over the entire side of town in that image.

Neighbors at Greenacres and Barron Park have our hands full with this, but there was a list circulating of all the many more PC zoning developments coming up. Developers aren't even bothering to consider the existing zoning, they know the City Council will completely disregard it for nothing.

If you don't like the overdevelopment, please take the Maybell neighbors as an example -- they have sprung into action in the most sincere grassroots kind of way. Shoestring budget, people offering to do whatever they can, showing up for meetings, writing letters. Around 70 people collected signatures for the referendum. This all happened because people were willing to get involved, in the most organic way, no traditional organization.

It is possible to fight city hall -- the more of us who do, the more we CAN do. Now is a good time as you will have much support among those of us fighting the overdevelopment at Maybell!

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